investigators in medical schools, and an environment for research extending into multidisciplinary NIH programs.
Issues of relevance to the discipline of comparative medicine, such as diseases of laboratory animals, are highly important to NCRR, but might not be of obvious relevance to categorical institutes and initial review groups (IRGs), which are faced with priority decisions for grant applications directed toward issues of human health. Therefore, research-grant applications directed toward comparative medicine programmatic goals are not likely to fare well in the mainstream of NIH IRGs, in part because of irrelevance, but also because many Comparative Medicine Program-directed proposals tend to be for applied research. It is imperative that NCRR Comparative Medicine Program staff assist in guidance of NCRR-relevant applications through the NIH review process.
Research grant applications directed toward Comparative Medicine Program goals must be subjected to the highest standards of peer review; this will ensure high-quality comparative medicine research, training environments, and stature of the discipline. The Comparative Medicine Program Review Committee has, in the last several years, maintained this standard. The Comparative Medicine Program needs to attract more and higher-quality applications, but that cannot happen without creation of a scientific constituency that contributes to the goals of the Comparative Medicine Program. The sparseness of such a constituency of competitive scientists underscores the urgency of training veterinarians for research careers and extending comparative medical, whole-animal training to nonveterinarians.
We emphasize, however, that laboratory animal health and welfare issues have also been well served by nonveterinarian comparative medical scientists, particularly virologists, microbiologists, geneticists, and behaviorists. Broad communication regarding the opportunities for Comparative Medicine Program research support will encourage scientists outside the discipline of comparative medicine to contribute to problems facing comparative medicine and result in an infusion of new insight and new energy. That, in turn, will increase the quality and competition for Comparative Medicine Program grants and invigorate the comparative medicine academic infrastructure through increased awareness and collaboration. NCRR can achieve participation by the scientific community through clearly elucidated and universally publicized program announcements that emphasize general themes of interest. How NCRR becomes aware of developing trends in biomedical model research is addressed later.
Considering the trends in research based on animal models, there clearly are research areas that the NCRR Comparative Medicine Program can emphasize through program announcements. The growing importance of genetically altered laboratory mice during a period of federal austerity in spending for animal-related health care and infrastructure poses a pressing need. These mice pose unique problems in their need for specialized housing and health care. Demands for specialized housing, increasingly stringent animal welfare regulations, and increasing demands for cost-effective animal care seem to be opposing forces. Scientifically stringent behavioral research is needed to develop a scientific base for research animal welfare and to confirm (or negate) the value of regulations that pose an impediment to research based on animal models. Because animal models are involved in well over half of NIH-sponsored biomedical research, it